Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Bush's "Pass the Buck" Tax Plan Has Tricked Conservatives (and Hurt Almost All of Us)

I have long held the belief that if Americans really had all the facts -- minus GOP spin and the media's indifference to such half-truths -- Kerry would win in a landslide. And among the top issues that is misrepresented by Bush-Cheney 04, and rarely clarified by the media, is how the Bush "tax relief" plan affected most Americans.

To illustrate how the average Bush supporter is more than willing to vote against his or her economic interests, I offer a conversation I had with a Bush supporter. The four posts below -- two from me, two from the Bush supporter -- were made earlier this week on another political website.*

JD: In re. taxes : sure, that 350 times thing appears to be spin. Like with the defense systems, his record is consistent with one that is not interested in lowering taxes, which seems to be what you would have us believe. ...

DAVID: I don't know your economic status, JD, but if you are making less than $200,000/year, the Bush tax cuts have probably left you worse off than before. A recent GAO study found that every tax dollar cut by Bush has produced 64 cents of economic stimulus. If Bush had instead fully funded state mandates -- and that would have still left money for tax cuts -- the economic stimulus would have been an estimated $1.24.

Why are people making less than $200,000/year worse off? Here in NJ, my property taxes have risen by $1,100/year since Bush took over -- because of unfunded mandates. Because of the huge annual deficits, the dollar has been weak for three years. That affects things like gas prices -- which are up about 30 cents a gallon since Bush took over (although down from the 55 cents a gallon peak rise earlier this year), and home heating costs. Here in NJ, my monthly gas bill is up about $200/month since the beginning of 2003. Now, if you earn a ton, the higher prices are probably offset by your tax break. Someone who's rich, like Cheney, got something like a $171,000 tax cut. I think Bush got something like a $35,000 tax cut. That's a lot of gasoline. My family is considered on the upper end of middlle class, when compared to the national average. We got a $304 tax cut. So $304 vs. $3,300 in property taxes and another $1,800 in home heating costs, plus let's say another $500 to fill up our cars with gas over the past 18 months or so. Wow -- what a tax break!

JD: Your defense of Kerry's position, a fiscal conservative, is that Bush's position has made people worse, hardly a glowing endorsement. Raising taxes in order to balance a budget is simply not most people's idea of fiscal conservatism, not that the Bush admin is either. I like the non sequitor throwing in state and local spending and taxes in order to show how you believe that Bush's tax policy are bad. Nifty little rhetoical maneuver, were it to be the case that the federal government controlled state or local spending, state and local taxes, property taxes, etc ...

DAVID: Let me go over this slowly. Bush's FY 2004 budget proposes a 3% decrease to federal grants to states, a $16 billion decrease in state tax revenues -- all while proposing between $23-$82 billion in unfunded mandates. Since President Bush took office, states have raised taxes by a total of $14.5 billion, after 7 consecutive years of cutting taxes. The total 2003 net tax increase was $6.9 billion for the 42 reporting states – following a 2002 net tax increase of $9.1 billion. Seventeen states raised taxes by more than 1% with four states raising taxes by at least 5%. Why? Because states have to balance their budgets each year, even though the federal government does not. The Wall Street Journal reported, "worried about declines in schools and basic services, many Republican leaders in the states say they have little choice" but to raise taxes. So that's why my property taxes have risen $1,100/year since Bush came into office, and all for the joy of getting $304 on my 2002 return.

How about those gas prices? I don't know about you, but I don't like spending $1.83 when I spent 40 cents less under Clinton. ... But is Bush to blame? Here's my argument: In 2000, Bush said that if president, he would "persuade OPEC to keep oil supplies plentiful." Bush promised he would "'jawbone' OPEC members by calling them and saying 'we expect you to open your spigots.'" But in April, Knight-Ridder reported that Bush refused to "personally lobby" oil cartel leaders to change their minds about OPEC's production cut. But maybe that doesn't persuade you. How about this economics argument. Because of our huge deficits under Bush, the dollar has weakened. And because our dollar is so weak, gas prices in the U.S. rose 51% in two years (from mid-2002 to mid-2004), while in Europe, gas prices rose just 4%. ...


Can Kerry win the debates, and thus the election? I think so, but he has to bring these issues home. Simply saying that Bush is wrong on taxes or gas prices (or jobs or Iraq or the assault weapons ban, etc.) is not enough. All it does is make Kerry sound like a whiner, and it opens the door for Bush to say, "I'm an optimist, and he's a pessimist."

But bring those issues home, and you have the beginnings of meaningful debate. Kerry would score points to say that he would reduce the deficit, which would strengthen the dollar and help the economy in numerous ways, including lower gas prices. He would score points by telling people that be rolling back the tax break for the top 2%, the burden will be less for the rest of us because state and local governments won't be forced into hiking taxes.

Similarly, he would score points by not just saying that he wants to create jobs, but explaining how. For example, if the U.S. were to fully fund the $7.3 billion Congress approved for port security (vs. the less than $500 million Bush has spent in three-plus years), that would create jobs in a slew of states in both Red State America (Louisiana, Florida, etc.) and Blue State America (New York, New Jersey, etc.). If the U.S. were to invest in creating fuel-efficient cars for the future, as Kerry has planned, that would create jobs in a handful of states, including Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

But each of us who want to end Bush's reign has the responsibility to bring those issues home, too. We all know "Bush Democrats" -- those who support Bush post-9/11, for example -- as well as voters who haven't made up their minds or who are soft in their support of Kerry. You may live in a swing state, or know people who do.

Arm yourself with the facts. Don't wait for Chris Matthews or Wolf Blitzer or Bill O'Reilly to set the record straight -- because millionaire journalists don't think that way.


* I eliminated parts of posts unrelated to Bush's tax policy, which leads to the occasional elipsis in the transcript.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

as far as the campaign, as much as we can talk about media bias, and it's definitely there, the fact is, we're bogged down with a whole load of nonsense for the last six weeks (Swift Boats, now this Bush thing, Kitty Kelley), and Kerry hasn't been vocal enough (until about 2 weeks ago) in saying that the Bush people have screwed up everything, including Iraq, and are actually worse on terror.

He didn't do it enough in the late spring, and it didn't hurt him, b/c it was early, but he should have come out firing on this. The Bush people came out hard in August on Kerry's strength -- Vietnam, war commander -- and managed to hurt him on that. That's, to me, Kerry's one strategic error -- coming out and hitting Bush on what people think are his biggest strength is -- the war on terror, and simply saying, "Haven't we screwed this up completely?" That sort of thing. Again, he's doing it more now, and we'll see what happens when the debates come, but hitting that source of strength, essentially saying, "He thinks we're safer, but we're not. He thinks we're well-protected, but we're not." All this stuff about focusing on domestic issues, well, that's the thing that helped the Dems get their asses handed to them in 2002. I'm getting tired of the game of, "Let's wait until the GOP screws it up so royally that the voters have no choice" type strategy that seems to be what's employed by top Dems. Because now they have screwed it up royally, and the Dems can't take advantage.

I realize I'm crying wolf a bit here, and forgive me for that. But it's my true feeling at this moment in time. I think more than 50 percent of the American people are going to wake up on Wednesday after the election and think, "Wait, did we just re-elect this guy?"

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These posts have hit the nail on its head. Kerry has not sold himself to the public - from personality to issues. He has focused on the wrong things for the wrong amount of time at the wrong times. He needs to stay on point, make strong arguments over and over without wavering and without too much complexity (even if it is a complex issue like taxes). He still has time but waiting for GWB to screw up even more is futile.

As far as the tax analysis above, it is fraught with so many holes that it would take a week to respond. Suffice to say that many of those issues are not as interconnected as the discussion makes it appear. Some points: the GAO will never get it right on the impact of not funding state programs since the states never use money as intended anyway. Bush is not the primary "reason" for the weakness in the dollar. In fact, the dollar was way too strong in prior years so the fall was expected. The deficit played into this but in a war, there will always be deficit spending. I agree simply that "wealthy" people were helped more by this tax cut than anyone else (i think most know this)--although someone need explain "wealthy" while comparing someone in NY/NJ to Idaho who both earn $200k annually. There are numerous reasons gasoline prices have increased and Bush's 2000 campaign certainly did not have the foresight to predict the worldwide problems we have today. There were numerous issues relating to the states pre bush tax cuts. They were losing money hand over fist after the stock market bubble burst. Especially NY. California had energy problems. Not to mention, until someone speaks to the issues around the alternative min tax and the middle class, i will assume all tax plans are for political double speak purposes-because they are.

Kerry better keep it simple; if he tries to explain your argument about the ripple effect of the Bush tax plan, he will have no chance to win the election.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In keeping with the theme of this blog, if Kerry does make simple, straightforward points, will the media notice?

David said something a few posts ago, something like "Where's Edwards?" It's true. The media has pretty much ignored him, except when he told off Cheney.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

News was reporting him alot the last few days, first attacking Cheney and today Bush (some comparison to Ken Lay). Believe it or not, i even saw this coverage on Fox. Before that, media was pretty quiet about Edwards and not sure why.

9:20 PM  

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